WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Today's weather highs will be the warmest in over a month
If you didn't shovel your new snow yesterday, you can do it in relative comfort today. Highs are expected to get above freezing throughout Wisconsin for the first time in over a month. The eastern half of the state got about 3-to-7 inches of snow yesterday and last night. Milwaukee had the most at seven-point-seven, which broke a 113-year-old snowfall record for the date. Madison had just over four-inches. The western half of the state picked up 2-to-6 inches. Six Hartford Union high school students were injured when their bus left a snow-covered road in Dodge County and hit a tree. Officials said there were white-out conditions at the time, and none of the injuries were life-threatening. In Milwaukee County, a vehicle slammed into a sheriff's car, injuring a deputy who was responding to an earlier crash. By late yesterday afternoon, about half the flights in-and-out of Milwaukee's Mitchell International Airport were delayed or canceled. The snow cleared out last night, and southerly winds will bring in warmer temperatures today. Highs statewide are expected to be 35-to-38 degrees under partly cloudy skies. The National Weather Service says we'll have our warmest temperatures since January 12th. It's supposed to stay warm tomorrow before another big storm system is due in on Thursday. The north could get a few more inches of snow, while the south and east could get a rain-and-snow mixture.
Propane fuel prices continue to drop in Wisconsin. But they're still higher than a month-a-half-ago. The state energy office said yesterday that a gallon of propane has dropped to 3.43-a-gallon -- down from the five-dollar-plus range in mid-January. Federal officials said Wisconsin's average price as of last week was 3.68-a-gallon. The next federal update won't come until Thursday. Prices were as low as 2.19-a-gallon on January sixth -- the first day Wisconsin had 50-below wind-chills this winter. Meanwhile, state Republicans have introduced a loan program to help middle-income households buy propane and other heating items. Individual loans would be limited to 25-hundred-dollars, and the borrowers' incomes could not be higher than 200-percent of the median incomes in their home counties. Marinette Republican John Nygren is the lead authority of the Assembly bill. Hazelhurst Republican Tom Tiffany is the chief Senate sponsor. The proposed loan program is headed to the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee.
A man accused of providing the heroin that killed a U-W Stevens Point student has pleaded innocent to reckless homicide. 26-year-old Erik Olsen of Hancock was arraigned yesterday in Portage County Circuit Court. Prosecutors said Olsen supplied heroin to 22-year-old Jordan Peterson on the day the victim died last November. Peterson reportedly sent a text message to Olsen, looking for 25-dollars worth of a drug -- and Olsen denies finding him any. His lawyer has asked that Olsen's possible trial either be held outside of the Stevens Point area -- or that an out-of-town jury be brought in -- due to heavy pre-trial publicity in central Wisconsin.
Is the Internet killing the big-box electronics store? Maybe not, but a Wisconsin technical college retail expert says the Web definitely has an impact. Betty Hurd of Madison College said the closing of American T-V-and-Appliance is a sign of the continued problems retailers face in the wake of the Great Recession. American announced yesterday it would close its 11 stores and distribution facilities in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois. Hurd tells the Wisconsin Radio Network that families are looking to cut costs -- and saving 50-dollars online is often worth waiting a few extra days for a major product to arrive. Hurd also says it's easier for people to compare the quality of various brands online, and make decisions on purchases without leaving home. American got its start in Madison 60 years ago. The company said it was proud of its business record -- but in the past five years quote, "the economy has been unforgiving." American says it will begin a liquidation sale on Thursday.
Wisconsin public schools could have more flexible class schedules, under a bill to be considered in two legislative committees this week. The measure would eliminate the mandatory 180-day school year, although specific numbers of classroom hours would still be required. The Assembly Education Committee will hold a public hearing tomorrow on the idea. The Senate's education panel is now scheduled to vote on it Thursday after a meeting set for today was pushed back. Schools have asked for a long time to drop the 180-day mandate. Their biggest problem is re-scheduling days into June -- a bigger problem this year after many districts called off classes for four days in January due to the extreme cold. Also, a handful of Wisconsin districts have been pushing back their starting times each day -- because many youngsters are just not awake enough for classes which now begin as early as seven a-m. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the latest research shows that teenagers' body clocks are different from younger kids and adults. Experts say teens normally don't get sleepy until around 11 at night -- and it's normally 8 a-m before they're awake enough to really function at school.
Wisconsin lawmakers have a full day ahead, with numerous bills up for passage in both houses. The Senate will consider a watered-down school accountability package. Private schools that take tax-funded voucher students would have to report a variety of performance data to the state. They would also be given letter grades, the same as public schools get now. The Assembly continues to push for sanctions for low-performing schools, while Senate leaders say they don't have the votes to pass that. Also, the Senate's agenda includes bills to delay the start of expensive steps to reduce phosphorus in state waters -- four measures aimed at reducing heroin deaths and overdoses -- ending the sales tax on parts-and-labor for aircraft maintenance -- requiring police to get warrants before using unmanned drones to collect evidence, and to tap people's cell-phone data to track their movements. Senators also plan to vote on extending a new "informed consent" law for doctors to include dentists, chiropractors, and eye-and-foot specialists. They would no longer have to give patients as much information about alternative treatments. And the Senate plans to vote to allow charity duck races, and no longer consider them as illegal gambling.
The Wisconsin Assembly is expected to vote today to let doctors apologize for bad medical outcomes without having it used against them in malpractice suits. The bill has been considered for some time. The State Medical Society said it would promote fuller and more honest communication between doctors and patients. Trial lawyers say it would hurt victims' chances to win lawsuits. The Assembly is also scheduled to act on a compromise bill to force police departments to use outside agencies to investigate deaths instigated by officers. A statewide review panel was dropped from the bill. The lower house will also act on a compromise aimed at speeding up appeals of legal challenges to state laws, thus reducing the time those laws are on hold. Other Assembly bills up today would eliminate liability against farmers for those killed in agricultural tourism activities -- expand possible strip searches to all jail inmates, not just those arrested for certain offenses -- and requiring inspectors from both parties to be represented for various functions at the polls, and securing ballot containers. The Assembly is also due to seek a U-S constitutional convention to adopt an amendment requiring a balanced federal budget.
The Wisconsin National Guard is looking into the posting of a controversial photo that depicts soldiers smiling and posing humorously with a flag-draped casket. Major Paul Rickert confirms that at least one of the soldiers was recently trained to be in Wisconsin's Funeral Honor Guard unit. The caption reads, "We put the FUN in funeral -- your fearless honor guard from various states." Folks expressed outrage on Facebook, saying it was insensitive and offensive to pose so happily with a casket. Some said those involved should be charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Rickert would not confirm whether an official investigation is underway. He tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that officials decided to let people vent about the photo on the Guard's Facebook page. The picture is there, as well as on the Journal Sentinel's Web site. It was originally placed on Instagram. Rickert said there's no way the Guard condones the conduct, saying the unit's members are to perform their duties with "honor and respect."
Folks in Neillsville are being asked to keep boiling their drinking water, at least until eight tomorrow morning. That's after a mysterious drop in water pressure last Thursday, which turned out to be a broken water main in front of the city's fire station. The break caused Neillsville schools to close last Friday. The source of the problem was found Friday night. Yesterday, officials took samples to determine if the water's safe enough to drink. More samples are being taken today. Meanwhile, more Wisconsin communities are asking their residents to leave a faucet on 24-7 to keep their water pipes from freezing. Abbotsford was the latest to join the group yesterday. It's not expected to cost residents any more. The state Public Service Commission requires adjustments based on each resident's history of water usage. At first, the bitter cold weather was to blame for the freeze-ups. Now, officials say the problem is the deep frost that has surrounded underground service pipes.
A man found innocent-by-insanity for stealing his missing mother's Social Security checks is getting a conditional release. A Portage County judge agreed yesterday that 67-year-old Charles Jost of Amherst is eligible for community-based treatment as part of a 16-year mental commitment. He'll live in a Stevens Point apartment under the supervision of a case worker -- and he cannot possess guns or take alcohol or drugs. If he violates those terms, Jost can be sent to a mental institution. Jost was one of three people accused of stealing 170-thousand dollars in Social Security checks that kept being sent to his mother Marie for over 30 years after she disappeared. Jost's brother-in-law, Ronald Disher, will be sentenced April 15th after a jury convicted him of two charges, and he struck a plea deal to a charge that a jury couldn't agree upon. Jost's wife Delores was also charged, but her case was dropped after she suffered a series of strokes before she could go on trial.
Both of Wisconsin's U-S senators have appearances planned in the Badger State today. Republican Ron Johnson will deliver his "State of the Nation" address at a town hall meeting in Fond du Lac. Democrat Tammy Baldwin plans to visit to Domtar paper mill near Wausau, where she plans to talk about paper industry issues and postal reform.